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UNC Football: What are the Tar Heels getting in transfer RB Antonio Williams?

The former 4-star is coming home to play for the Tar Heels after being a 3rd-stringer at Ohio State.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday’s big news was the incoming transfer of running back Antonio Williams from Ohio State. Hailing from New London, N.C., Williams was the 7th-ranked running back in the country for the 2016 recruiting cycle, according to 247.

How We Got Here

A longtime UNC commit, Williams flipped his pledge from UNC to Wisconsin on December 5, 2014...and then flipped again, to the Buckeyes, in October of his senior year. Stories that start with two rescinded verbal commitments rarely have a happy ending, but Williams is somewhat different.

Williams amassed six carries for 28 yards in 2016— all in a blowout win over Rutgers early in the season. Unfortunately, the Buckeyes burned his redshirt (a story for another day in Chapel Hill) for that mop up duty, as he was behind a host of backs. Redshirt freshman Mike Weber, who was the #7 back in the 2015 class, was the primary option, amassing 1096 yards and 9 TDs. Behind Weber were freshman DeMario McCall (#2 all-purpose back in Williams’ class), and junior Curtis Samuel. McCall’s playing time was spotty, and Samuel’s role was limited, but Williams was no better or worse than the 4th option for the Bucks as a freshman.

In 2017, Ohio State added 5-star J.K. Dobbins to the mix...and all of the incumbents suffered as he amassed 194 carries. At 7.2 yards per clip, who can blame Urban Meyer? Weber was the second back, and toted 101 times for 626 yards in 12 games. Williams was the clear #3, and Ohio State got him the ball— he finished with 57 rushes for 290 yards and 3 TD, in addition to five receptions.

It should be noted that Ohio State moved McCall to receiver during spring practice in 2017— if it says anything, it says that Meyer and his staff believed in Williams more than the nation’s #2 APB. That’s...something.

With the 2018 signings of Jaelen Gill (#2 APB), Brian Snead (#3 RB), and Master Teague (#11 RB), Williams still found himself looking up at Dobbins and Weber...and over his shoulder at more talented freshmen.

Recognizing the situation unique to only a handful of schools— your Alabamas, Clemsons, USCs, Georgias, and yes, your Ohio States— Williams asked for his release.

What Type of Back is Williams?

At 5’11 210, definitely picture Williams as a power back in Larry Fedora’s system— he doesn’t have the size of Elijah Hood, doesn’t have the top-end speed of T.J. Logan, and doesn’t have the wiggle of Gio Bernard.

What made Williams an elite recruit was his balance— both in that he does everything well, and he has the ability, strength, and agility to absorb contact and keep his legs churning.

It sounds cliche, but Williams finishes runs. He stays low, keeps moving, and finishes through contact. While Jordon Brown and Michael Carter both excel in this, they don’t have the size to do so quite as well in traffic.

Additionally, he is a patient runner and has the ability to make people miss in the open field. Watch how he sets up his blockers in this one, and uses his vision to cut back across the field against traffic.

For whatever its worth, Williams had a good performance in Ohio State’s spring game this year-- 47 yards on five carries, and a touchdown.

As we saw last year, running back depth is a sketchy thing. Hood’s departure and the injuries to Stanton Truitt and Antwaun Branch left Carolina scrambling for a third running back, as Johnathan Sutton filled that role in 2017. Going into 2019, when Williams should be eligible as a junior, the Heels should still have Brown and Carter as established upperclassmen. Newer ‘power’ backs Javontay Williams and Branch will also have opportunities to establish themselves this year.

(There is also a rumor that he will be able to get a hardship waiver with the NCAA and be immediately eligible...that would be huge. We’ll report on that if it comes to pass.)

Williams strikes a delicate balance between those four— he’s a savvy runner, has sufficient speed to not get run down by most DBs, has great vision, and is a powerful back.

On Balance

Make no mistake, when Williams arrives for summer school, he is immediately the most talented running back on campus. Is he the best? Probably, but Brown and Carter certainly turned in surprisingly good seasons when thrust into action behind a patchwork offensive line in 2017.

If he can play in 2018, I fully expect Williams to become as much of a ‘workhorse’ back as Fedora’s offense will allow. If he’s not eligible until 2019, the picture muddies— but Williams will make an impact in his two years on the field in Chapel Hill.